Bengals embarrassed heading to playoffs

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CINCINNATI - How bad was it? The Bengals are apologizing.

A national television audience watched the Bengals give one of the most inept performances in their history on Sunday night, losing to the New York Jets 37-0 in the final regular-season game. They've got five days to get over it and get ready for a playoff rematch.

There will be plenty of soul-searching this week for a team that looked like it doesn't belong in the playoffs. The Jets (9-7) come to Cincinnati (10-6) for a first-round playoff game on Saturday, looking for a repeat.

The Bengals played so poorly that receiver Chad Ochocinco, who failed to catch a pass for the first time since 2002, tweeted an apology on Monday morning.

"Bengal Nation on behalf of myself and my teammates we apoligize (sic) for last nights game, we will bounce back. Cincy be great!" he tweeted.

There were plenty of reasons for the Bengals to say they were sorry.

Cincinnati managed only 72 net yards, the fewest in franchise history. Carson Palmer completed only one of his 11 passes for no gain, leaving in the third quarter with a passer rating of 1.7. Three of his passes went off receivers' hands. The Bengals finished the game with more penalties (seven) than first downs (five).

The defense wasn't much better. New York ran for 257 yards against a defense that ranked second in the league against the rush. The Jets averaged 4.5 yards per carry.

The result was Cincinnati's first shutout since a 16-0 loss to Baltimore in 2001, a span of 131 games. It matched the worst loss in franchise history - the Bengals lost to the Bears 44-7 in 1986 and 37-0 to Baltimore in 2000.

How could that happen? They don't know.

"They had almost 300 yards rushing - that's crazy," middle linebacker Dhani Jones said. "It's a lot of yards and it's embarrassing."

The best guess is the Bengals, for whatever reason, didn't show up ready to play. The AFC North champions had little at stake, and played like it on a cold, windy night on network television, reinforcing the notion that they don't belong.

"We didn't give our best effort," offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "I don't know why we played so poorly."

The offense's meltdown was stunning. The Bengals were coming off a poor offensive performance in a 17-10 win over Kansas City and were upfront about the urgency to get things fixed before the playoffs. Instead, they regressed.

"It's going to be tough to swallow," Palmer said. "It's a (game) film we're going to have to watch over and over as we prepare for the game."

Ochocinco bruised his left knee when he slipped during pregame warmups on the slick field, landing hard on the leg. He played the first half and was held out the rest of the way in part because of the injury. He was scheduled for a precautionary medical test on Monday.

"Can't extend my knee," he tweeted before the test.

After the loss on Sunday night, coach Marvin Lewis indicated Ochocinco wasn't seriously hurt and would be able to play against the Jets again in a rare two-week repeat. After his MRI exam Monday, the receiver tweeted: "MRI went well."

It's the first time the Bengals have played the same team in consecutive weeks to end the regular season and start the playoffs. The Jets have some experience at it - they beat the Raiders in Oakland 24-22 to end the 2001 regular season, then lost in Oakland 38-24 in the playoffs the following weekend.

Since 1978, there have been 10 instances of teams facing each other in a regular-season finale and the first round of the playoffs, according to STATS LLC. Only four teams were able to sweep - Kansas City over the Raiders in 1991, the Raiders over Denver in 1993, New England over Miami in 1997 and Philadelphia over Tampa Bay in 2001.

Twice, a team has gotten drubbed in the final regular-season game and rebounded to win the wild-card playoff against the same team. Buffalo lost at Houston 27-3 in 1992, then won its playoff game at home 41-38.

A good reference point for Cincinnati could be 2004, when Denver beat Indianapolis at home 33-14 but the Colts won the playoff rematch 49-24 at home. One huge difference: Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy rested his starters in the regular season finale that year, using Peyton Manning and running back Edgerrin James for only three plays.

By contrast, the Bengals were trying to win against the Jets. Lewis rested running back Cedric Benson, but the rest of the starting offense was on the field in the first half, when Cincinnati managed 7 net yards on 15 plays.

The two NFC playoff games next weekend also feature rematches. Dallas beat Philadelphia 24-0 on Sunday and will play the Eagles again at Cowboys Stadium. Green Bay beat Arizona 33-7 heading into their playoff rematch.


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